Traffic crashes are a major cause of death and injury in the United States. In 2002, there were 42,815 fatalities and over 2.9 million injuries on the nation's highways. Crashes on rural roads (roads in areas with populations of less than 5,000) account for over 60 percent of the deaths nationwide, or about 70 deaths each day. Further, the rate of fatalities per vehicle mile traveled on rural roads was over twice the urban fatality rate. GAO identified (1) the factors contributing to rural road fatalities, (2) federal and state efforts to improve safety on the nation's rural roads, and (3) the challenges that may hinder making improvements in rural road safety. GAO obtained information from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and other organizations with knowledge of these issues. In addition, GAO analyzed fatal crash data on rural roads from Department of Transportation databases and visited five states that account for about 20 percent of the nation's rural road mileage. GAO also contacted academic experts and examined legislative proposals for improving rural road safety. We provided copies of a draft of this report to the Department of Transportation for its review and comment. In discussing this report, agency officials noted that safety should be part of every project designed and built with federal-aid highway funds.
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